In post 9-11 America, comprehensive education programs on Islam are more important than ever.
Currently, units dedicated to Islam are required in California secondary schools, and the subject is covered in some community college courses. Yet many claim that the religion is unimportant and unnecessary in the modern classroom, and thousands of students in private, religious schools, as well as those who are homeschooled, are not getting this information.
In addition, a lack of accurate information about the religion has contributed to the rise of Islamophobia in the nation and a lack of tolerance for Muslims in the United States today. This has led to hate crimes, violence, and widespread discrimination.
The fact is that gaining a wider view of how others understand the world is important to understanding the world itself. According to a study from the Middle East Institute, Islamophobia has been on the rise in not just America, but Europe as well.
Since the beginning of the refugee crisis, the rise in Islamophobia has only been exacerbated by politicians and organizations in Europe. This challenges the promotion of peace by promoting discrimination and racism against refugees, and prevents the acceptance of Muslim refugees, who are believed to be security threats. In addition, flawed–and frankly, inaccurate–perceptions of Muslim refugees only amplifies the migration crisis.
With so many misconstrued beliefs about the subject, open-mindedness is a significant element. Parties running on anti-immigration platforms are gaining more power than ever, and many are capitalizing off the fact that there is relatively no education on Islam and its relationship to many refugees, who are being denied asylum simply because of their faith.
However, a common problem that many teachers face when it comes to teaching Islam is knowing how to teach it. While Islam is a complex religion, with many aspects open to interpretation, many teachers teach the basics of the faith and then stop there. In addition, many general programs on Islam fail to consider whether the way the subject is taught only reinforces the stereotypes about the religion.
Clearly, what teachers should strive for when creating an education program on Islam is to take into account modern issues such as terrorism and the Islamic State Group, but also place the religion in context with the historical, political, and cultural factors that are essential to understanding the subject. One such factor is understanding the lack of personal contact with Muslims as a product of immigration policy. Accepting no refugees enforces the anti-Muslim ideas while also shunning one of the United Nations’ fundamental principles of human rights: human dignity.
Opponents may argue that courses tailored towards religious studies aim to “convert” rather than “educate.” What many fail to recognize is that history is vast and varied, with many complexities; courses on Islam aim to address the notion of faith and the individuals that are directly influenced by it, rather than take a position on it.
To be sure, difficulties may arise when it comes to students’ preconceived notions about what a course on Islam is. That being said, as history is a collection of stories, there must be mindfulness when exposing students to a variety of perspectives: from both the refugees that form it and the politicians and policies that shape it.
Courses on Islam must redefine the complexities of the subject, rather than attempt to provide a subjective analysis of the culture. For educators seeking to integrate the teachings of Islam into their classrooms, this factor is key.
This is why the education of our next generation is so important. Only by learning about Islam—and all its diverse interpretations in regards to the refugee crisis—can we learn to not only develop a tolerance for it but use it to influence public policy. Only by learning about how others understand the world can we begin to understand it for ourselves.
Opinion piece by Valerie Wu